AT its simplest telling, The Salesman is about a woman, Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti, About Elly) who is attacked when in the shower and how her husband, Emad (Shahab Hosseini, A Separation) deals with the incident.
But, the couple are into theatre and in the midst of staging Arthur Miller’s Death of A Salesman. That tale is about cultural change in a post-World War Two setting of New York, when rapid modernization affects people who are still stuck to old notions of societal traditions. It’s an adapt or die situation.
Under Oscar-winning Asghar Farhadi’s screenplay and direction for The Salesman, the Miller play has parallels to what is going on in the personal realm of this middle-class Iranian couple.
For instance, Emad and Rana play the roles of the salesman and his wife on stage but off-stage, they eventually have to face a salesman as the bad guy – and decide his fate.
According to the production notes, Iran and most so its capital Teheran is undergoing modernization, with its people facing the new-versus-traditional changes that Miller’s society had to decades ago.
This movie, which won the 2017 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, is a thoughtful study of relationships, especially between a couple, and a richly-layered story.
The movie opens with Emad and Rana, so in love, having to move out of their apartment in Teheran due to structural faults. With the help of theatre friend Babak (Babak Karimi), they move into an apartment he owns but which previous tenant has yet to remove her things, tucked away in one of the rooms.
Emad is an engaging teacher at a boys’ school while Rana seems to be a true thespian and housewife. She readies the apartment as Emad is busy with his work, and that’s when the assault happens.
Watch the couple change. Emad is slowly consumed by the incident, while Rana deals with the shame in a traditional don’t-tell manner. She doesn’t even want to make a police report.
It’s an emotional movie with feelings quietly delivered through restrained gestures and subtle expressions that sear.
Hosseini, who won the 2011 Berlin Film Festival’s Silver Bear for Best Actor for A Separation, delivers convincingly the metamorphosis of a gentle man to one with murderous intent.
Alidoosti infuses Rana’s dove-like character with complex emotions, hurt against her husband, love for someone else’s child, and empathy for her attacker.
The pace of the story might need popcorn to sustain attention but the suspenseful revelation of the bad guy is startling enoug to keep you glued to the big screen.
I found The Salesman a haunting watch. But was Rana raped? You need to answer that yourself.
- Cover pic is of Shahab Hosseini in a scene from The Salesman. Oix courtesy of GSC Cinemas.